I don't care how old you are, saying good-bye to a pet is never easy. You may cry less as an adult. You may have an easier time coping with the news from the vet. You may even be able to euthanize your furry companion with a clear conscience, knowing it's for the best. But no matter how much you've matured, no matter how cynical you've become, you'll still hurt like hell when you it hits you: today is the day they will die.
Last week my parents made the tough decision to put our family cat to sleep. She'd been slowly losing weight, hiding in odd places, wandering around disoriented. At first, they weren't too worried. She seemed a little off, but then again, she's always been a little off. You see, Kitty (sometimes "Todd" or "Toddis"; sometimes "Geek" or just plain "Kitty") was born with a disorder called cerebellar hypoplasia. In the beginning -- well. That's where I should start this, really. The beginning.
I distinctly remember going to pick her out that weekend. It was January of 1999, the off-season for kittens, and close to my 17th birthday. The vet had advised us to wait until summer, when free kittens would be showing up everywhere, but I was young and impatient. After Christmas I scoured the newspaper every day. Nothing. Nothing. More nothing. And then that morning there it was, right there at the end of the classifieds, the first "free kittens" ad of the year. As we drove to the address that day my mom and I discussed potential names with each other, testing out each one in that sort of high-pitched, childish, "here kitty-kitty!" voice people use. I don't remember any of them now except for one, Sadie, which was always a contender but just never stuck.
It was cold that day, unpleasant. All the trees were dead and the sky above us was the dull, gritty white of an old dishrag hung up to dry. When we finally got inside the apartment, the kittens were running around in the owner's kitchen, crazed and inquisitive and pouncing from the floor to the counter and back again. I didn't see Kitty at first. The runt of her litter, she was sitting quietly by the fridge, a dandelion puff of pale grey. I knew she was mine the moment I set eyes on her.
No one knew anything was wrong with her for at least a month. I do recall the owner trying to steer me away from her, saying she was very small and might not be healthy. Kitty seemed fine at home, though. She would sit with you and purr and stumble around on her baby feet. It wasn't until she got a little older that we started noticing weird quirks. Her head wobbled a lot, especially when she focused on things. She swayed like a drunk when she walked, and fell over trying to scratch her ear. It was cute, but troublesome. On our next visit to the vet, we brought up the behavior with the doctor. Some blood work may have been done, but really I think she just looked at her and knew.
As Kitty grew, she became more stable on her feet. Her head stopped shaking so much. Eventually we came to think of her as a normal cat, although every new person who visited remarked on her condition. Yes, we would say, she's a bit weird. But there were great things about her too. She couldn't steal food off the counter because she wasn't coordinated enough to jump that high. Her cry was a tiny, creaky little meow -- or nothing at all. She got along fine with the dog. Heck, she even took baths like a trooper:
She went through a stage of biting, but that passed (the vet called it "the terrible twos," just like in children). And while she liked to sleep by your feet, she didn't become much of a lap cat until she grew older. By that point I had moved out, but I heard stories from my family about how much she had mellowed in her old age. My sister grew especially close to her and would send me photos every now and then. One of Kitty on my mom's paperwork; one of Kitty in the sun. She was funny to watch, and there were little things she did that amused us all. She had a habit of going wild at night, tearing up the stairs with an uncharacteristically loud "mwrooooow!" And during Christmas we would often find her under the tree, drinking up all the water.
Last week was tough for us all. My dad finally took Kitty in one morning after they noticed she was refusing to eat or drink. I suppose they took things seriously there because it didn't take long for the vet to call the house, rattling off a laundry list of problems to my mom: tiny kidneys, low weight, a heart murmur, diabetes. She said normally they'd start an IV, but they couldn't flood Kitty with liquids because it might stop her heart. They could try and put her on some medicine, which might help for a while, but ... My mom got off the phone knowing she had to share the burden of the vet's recommendation with everyone else. She called me at work, she woke up sister from a nap. We were all in agreement with the vet; we didn't let Kitty suffer very long. A few hours later, she was gently put to sleep and euthanized.
A few days later, we received a package in the mail. Inside was a note from the vet and a clay heart imprinted with Kitty's paw print and a few jewels. At the top of the heart, someone had carved the name Sadie. Funny how after all these years, she ended up with the only name that never stuck. I guess that's ok, though. She'll always just be Kitty to us.